TO SAY that Dane Swan was bound to run foul of Nathan Buckley once the new coach was appointed would be an exaggeration. But it is clear that Collingwood’s past two Brownlow medallists diverge in their approaches to football.
Unlike his coach, Swan has never been one of those players who does absolutely everything – peeling the proverbial skin off his chicken – in his preparation for games. He is a serious competitor, but relative to, say, the meticulous Scott Pendlebury, the tattooed midfielder is more old school. He has never hidden his fondness for a good time and a full social life.
Swan gives the nonchalant impression that he plays football for enjoyment and mateship, and that there are aspects of the modern game – the meetings and monastic lifestyle that it demands – that he finds odious.
Hence, no one in the Collingwood loop was terribly surprised when Swan withdrew from the leadership group before the start of the season. He’s not one for telling teammates how to behave, or for organising and running meetings. He trains – hard – and he plays.
The decision to suspend Swan for two matches is a tough one, given he hasn’t done anything to anyone. To our knowledge, he didn’t put a barman in a headlock, punch or abuse a bystander. He’s had a drink six days before the next match. In days of yore, that session would be compulsory. In his version of events – which may or may not differ from the club’s, the Pies having sought ”external” verification as well as ”internal” – he didn’t drink much.
The decision to suspend Swan is consistent with Buckley’s long-standing hard line on player behaviour. At a similar stage of 2006, Collingwood skipper Buckley was disappointed when his predecessor, Mick Malthouse opted not to suspend Chris Tarrant and Ben Johnson for their role in a drunken brawl in the wee hours.
Malthouse took a more tolerant view of player misdemeanours than his skipper, who also believed that the players should have more say in enforcing standards, along the lines of Sydney and Geelong.
Buckley’s belief in player empowerment means that the leadership group, headed by Nick Maxwell, had a significant say in the decision to suspend Swan. As football chief Geoff Walsh said last night, this is a case of players abiding by their own standards, which they ”signed off on”.
That said, there is no question that players want to do the bidding of their new coach and would frame the penalty accordingly, just as their pledge of abstinence from alcohol for the last part of the season would be made with Buckley’s uncompromising standards in mind.
The tricky part for a club is always: a) what to do when the offending player is a star, and b) when the upcoming games are crucial.
There is always an argument that the rest of the team ought not be penalised for the actions of an individual. Malthouse took that stance for much of his coaching career, trading Tarrant rather than suspending him, in 2006. When Collingwood went harder and suspended Alan Didak and Heath Shaw for their drunken car crash and fictitious explanation in 2008, the club really had no choice because the pair had lied.
Here, the benchmark for punitive action was established before round one, when Sharrod Wellingham was rubbed out for two matches for drinking and missing a rehabilitation session. Walsh noted the ”consistency” of the Swan penalty.
That’s the problem with curfews and prohibitions. They can bite you at the least-opportune times.
Swan’s loss could well prove the Swans’ gain.
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